Steve Partner: Would you fish for a ready-made record?

When is a record carp not a record carp? When it comes from Pavyotts Mill, apparently.

That was the opinion of much of the angling world, anyway, when the venue’s owner, Steve Couch, laid out plans to fill his eight-acre Maze Lake with a number of massive 60lb-plus carp to complement the 10 forties he’d already stocked.

True, the plans now look about as watertight as those drawn up by the designer of the Titanic, but Steve’s vision has raised an interesting debate nonetheless.

Yes, his dream of creating a fishery offering record fish on a day ticket might have foundered on rocks otherwise known as misplaced bravado, laughable naïvety and, crucially, the laws of the land. But, regardless, he still has a lake stuffed full of perfectly legal 40-pounders and his concept remains intact. This venture may have failed but, be in no doubt, the notion of ready-made record-breakers remains a real possibility.

Where, though, would your vote go? Could you fish for a giant carp that had only just been stocked?

I guess, ultimately, the crux of the debate comes down to which side of the fence you sit. If you’re a fully paid up member of the ‘I’ll fish for anything as long as it’s big’ club, you’d welcome the chance of breaking into a world normally the preserve of the elite. But if you belong in the other camp, the ‘British is best’ gang, you’d probably avoid the possibility at all costs, believing it to be very much the wrong side of credible. 

The various angling forums have already made up their minds. In similar vein to the way many of them treated the death of Benson, Bluebell Lakes’ famous resident, most of what’s been said has left little to the imagination. According to them, any fishery that goes down that route is a joke.

They’re not alone either. Most of the opinion formers within this clique-ridden branch of the sport think exactly the same, damning Couch’s project with words like ‘pathetic’, ‘farce’ and ‘circus’. Carp angling has spoken, then.

Not quite. While there are clearly plenty of very vocal people angered at the news, there’s a significant number who think precisely the opposite. A chance to have a crack at a British record for the price of a day-ticket? Even the critics have to admit, on paper at least, that it sounds an attractive proposition.

It certainly does from where I’m sat. If clean fish are grown on in fish farms or stock ponds before being legally introduced to fisheries – even at massive weights – I fail to see what all the fuss is about. Yes, I’m aware that diseases like KHV are a huge threat to our native stock but I’m not talking about taking a gamble on dodgy, foreign-sourced monstrosities – I’m talking about healthy, certified and completely above board giants. Ready-made they might be, but is that in itself really a crime?

Just take a look at what happens in game fishing. Trout are regularly stocked in certain stillwaters at giant weights where customers pay to catch them, sometimes just hours after they’ve left the holding ponds. The fisheries are very open about the practice and the visiting anglers fully aware of what has taken place. There is no silly charade played out and there are no gongs or prizes awarded to the captors. But, even so, they go home happy.

The grey area comes when a grown-on heavyweight breaks the record. In game fishing they deal with this scenario by categorising fish as either ‘cultivated’ or ‘natural’ and if coarse fishing is intent on following the current path then we could perhaps adopt a similar system.

What we certainly can’t allow is for any of these bloated giants – legal or otherwise – to enter the history books. That, I accept, is a step too far. It would make a mockery if our records were open to that kind of abuse, and to allow artificially fed creatures to sit at the top of our list would be to distort angling history. But as for the wider ethical point of stocking huge fish, well, that’s another matter entirely.

For me, there is no right or wrong here. Instead, there’s just choice. Anglers can either visit places like Pavyotts Mill and enjoy them for what they are, or they can choose to give them a wide berth. Just like in game fishing, I think it’s fair to say that no-one who catches giant carp from these venues - record breakers or not – is going to be lauded a hero by the angling world and neither should they expect to be.

Equally, though, while success might be entirely superficial, those that decide it isn’t for them have no right to condemn those that do. Freedom of choice lies at the core of any democratic society – and that includes the one populated by fishermen.

What we must remember in this specific example is that Steve Couch is merely looking to provide a service and if there was no market, the thousands of pounds he has already spent (and the thousands more he was prepared to) on these fish would have been wasted. But he’s a business man as much as he is a fishery owner and he knows full well he won’t struggle to sell day tickets.

As much as the critics may hammer his intentions, there will be plenty more only too happy to slip the net under a giant – even if it has inhabited the lake only marginally longer than their hookbait.

I’ve written this before when discussing other elements of the sport but it bears repetition: fishing has come to reflect society and, in an era where the demands on time increase by the year, comfort, ease and instant gratification have all become the norm.

When you’ve only got a weekend to spare, why – assuming you can afford the syndicate fees – sit on a sparsely populated 80-acre gravel pit where a blank is likely, when you can go somewhere a tenth of the size with 10 times the stock and stand a good chance of a pb? I’m not saying the latter is more preferable, merely another choice.

Yes, the idea of catching a stocked 60lb carp might be complete anathema to some, but then so, to many of us, is the thought of fishing for 200lb of F1s on a hole in the ground.

Fishing is an incredibly broad church, with a diversity of choice that inevitably means opinions differ wildly. But it’s crucial for the long-term harmony of the sport that no matter what your leanings are, you don’t start taking pot-shots at fellow anglers.

Ultimately what it comes down to is freedom of choice. And, as yet, I’ve never discovered a scenario when that’s something deserving of criticism.